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A Framework for Exploring the Policy Implications of UK Medical Tourism and International Patient Flows

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Publication details

JournalSocial Policy & Administration
DateE-pub ahead of print - 18 Jan 2012
DatePublished (current) - Feb 2013
Issue number1
Number of pages24
Pages (from-to) 1–25
Early online date18/01/12
Original languageEnglish


It is estimated that over 50,000 individuals from the UK each year elect to fund their own treatment abroad. Such treatments commonly include cosmetic and dental surgery; cardio, orthopaedic and bariatric surgery; IVF treatment; and organ and tissue transplantation. The UK has also experienced inward flows of patients who travel to receive treatment and pay out of pocket, being treated in both private and NHS facilities.

The rise of ‘medical tourism’ presents new opportunities and challenges in terms of treatment options for consumers/patients and health policymakers. Such developments denote a commercialization, commodification and internationalization of health care in a way that UK policy has not experienced to date.

This article addresses four key issues. We explain the rise of medical-related travel (applied to the UK), identify key policy considerations for the future, highlight important research gaps and explore conceptual frameworks which might help us understand better the observed patterns of medical tourism. Whilst the context for policy and practice is undoubtedly dynamic, we argue the need for greater clarity in understanding the emergent implications for health policy and health care delivery.

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